Post-Conviction Relief Available in State and Federal Cases
President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of nearly fifty individuals, including a number of prisoners in Florida. Most of those individuals whose sentences were commuted were serving prolonged prison sentences for drug offenses. These individuals had been convicted under old, outdated sentencing schemes that imposed much longer prison sentences for drug offenders than do modern sentencing laws.
A Conviction is Rarely the End of a Case
Whether you have been convicted of a federal crime or state crime, unless you entered into a plea bargain you still have options available to you to obtain relief from your conviction. A skilled post-conviction relief attorney will know how you can avail yourself of these options:
- Trial-level motions: If you have been convicted at trial, the first level of relief involves asking the trial court to set aside your conviction based either on insufficient evidence or on some other trial abnormality that denied you a fair trial. Success here usually means you receive a new trial.
- Appeals: If the trial court denies you relief, you usually have the right to appeal your case to a court of appeals. If the first level of appellate courts denies your appeal, you usually have the option to appeal that decision to the next higher court (usually the Supreme Court of the United States for federal cases and state supreme courts for state criminal cases). Note that these second appeals are discretionary, meaning the supreme courts do not have to hear your appeal at all.
- Habeas Corpus: A habeas corpus petition is filed in federal court and claims you are being unlawfully imprisoned. This usually only challenges your custody and examines whether the court that sentenced you had the authority and jurisdiction to do so. It also looks to whether your sentence has already expired.
- Clemency: The executive branch (governor or the president) has the authority to pardon a criminal’s crime (where the sentence is forgiven and the prisoner released), commute the criminal’s sentence (i.e., reduce the duration of the sentence), or issue a reprieve (which temporarily suspends the punishment). None of these options removes the criminal conviction from the person’s criminal record; however, they can result in a much lighter sentence.
- Expungement/sealing of records: In certain cases, you can apply to have your criminal conviction expunged or sealed. An expungement wipes away information on your criminal record, such as the record of an arrest or conviction. Sealing your record leaves the information intact but makes it inaccessible to most individuals. Both sealing of records and expungement are only available to certain individuals.
South Florida criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner is skilled in both trial practice as well as post-conviction practice. He has helped numerous clients pursue relief of their convictions and/or sentences through appeals, applications for expungement, and other avenues. Contact his offices at (305) 670-9919 to schedule a free consultation and learn about what post-conviction relief you may be entitled to.